When learning new things is hard

If learning a new skill or trying something for the first time can evoke anxiety in an adult imagine what it can be like for an Aspergian kid who relies on routines and predictability to keep their world feeling safe and secure.

Before we knew Ryan had Asperger’s he used to scream when it was time to do his homework. He was five at the time and the ‘homework’ was cutting and pasting. The mere thought of picking up scissors, which challenged his fine motor skills, was enough to create a meltdown. Now, thanks to Jed Baker, I understand why.

Slow and steady really does win the race

I recently attended a conference, organized by the Autism Awareness Centre, that featured Dr. Baker. His advice was incredibly practical and we’re now planning to use some of his tips in our upcoming plan to teach Ryan to ride his bike without training wheels.

By the way, if you have kids who haven’t started riding a bike yet, I recommend starting with those bikes with no peddles since balance is the hardest part of riding a bike. That way you can skip the training wheels altogether! 

Here are a few of the tips we picked up from Jed and will be sharing with Ryan’s swimming and skating coaches as well.

  • Start with what’s easy, not hard. This is so basic, yet I often find myself jumping into the hard work right away, which triggers stress and anxiety. Now I will try to start with a task that Ryan is really good at, so he feels confident, and then work up to something more difficult.
  • Break it down into small pieces. For our bicycle plan, the first (and maybe the only) thing Ryan is going to start with is sitting on the seat. Then we’re going to ask him to go from point A to point B just using his feet.

I read about this approach in a wonderful memoir called Finding Benabout a mother and son struggling to make sense of their world long before the Asperger’s diagnosis was available to them. I think it took them months for Ben to start riding his bike, but he did it, in his own time and at his own pace.

  • Give choice of work & use special interests. If we have three activities on our list maybe Ryan can choose the two he wants to do and in what order. Options increase comfort levels and special interests (Super Mario!) can be a big help.
  • Use visual supports. White boards, diagrams, labels are all great for our visual learners. We use them to break down our activity into steps and show what the reward is at the end.

 A few weeks ago Ryan’s skating instructor showed up with his lesson plan written on a white board. I could have kissed her right then and there!

  • Reduce length. ‘Let’s try this for one minute and then we’ll do X.’ Keep the trying short and then move on to a preferred activity. Or take a break and then try again.
  • Reward trying. I loved this part of Jed’s presentation. He talked about how compliance isn’t a skill but trying something is a skill that we need to teach our kids. So he rewards trying, not just succeeding. He even suggested a reward system based on trying rather than achieving.

Let me know what techniques you use to teach ‘trying.’ I’d love to hear from you. 

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Filed under Education, Managing Anxiety, Sports and extracurricular activities

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